Planning students ponder levy for new building

Students are desperate for space, but unsure if the cost is too steep

Christine Macy, dean of the faculty of planning and architecture, takes questions from planning students about the proposed levy. Photo: Paula Sanderson

A proposed levy for a new building on Dalhousie’s Sexton Campus is getting mixed reviews from planning students.

The plan for the Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture building — dubbed the IDEA building — anticipates planning, architecture and engineering students will pay a $360 levy each year for the financial upkeep of the building for 20 years.

The fee would be tacked on to their tuition.

Christine Macy, dean of the faculty of planning and architecture, says students in their first year might have a chance to use the building before they graduate if the process moves quickly. She wants currents students to stand in for future students to make the decision.

“I think it’s a lot of money. It’s absurdly expensive. It makes me feel really sick thinking about it,” says Nick Shaw, a master of planning student. “There is a part of me that really just wants to say no, we’re not paying for this. But I don’t know if I can do that.”

Shaw has an issue with the amount of money planning students are being asked to contribute because his tuition is already one of the highest in the country for planning.

“The concept in general is great,” says Shaw, adding, “it’s pretty hilarious that planning is not in the name.”

The building will be big — an estimated 50,000 square feet at the minimum — and located on Queen Street between Clyde and Morris. The building has a list of functions, including lecture halls, design labs, faculty offices and a student learning hub.

The IDEA building was conceived in 2007. At that time, a new building on the Sexton Campus was one Dalhousie’s top priorities, says Macy. She says the 2008 economic meltdown and attempts to find a major donor put those plans on hold.

Students have outgrown Sexton Campus. The largest classroom seats 130 people, which isn’t enough room for first-year engineering lectures. The number of engineers in the undergraduate program has increased to 1,596 students in 2012 from 1,280 students in 2008.

Engineering students currently take classes at Empire Theatres in Park Lane because of the lack of space. They want and need a space on their campus to have classes, and have already agreed to pay the $360 levy.

The project is going ahead with or without the planning and architecture students financial support, says Macy, noting financial participation in the project is key to being part of the design process, and space use allocations.

The planning department has also increased its enrolment since 2008 and also is looking for more student space. They are interested in design labs and rooms for group work.

Planning students are faced with two options — contribute financially to the project and have a say in the building, or don’t contribute and expect their needs will not be taken into consideration.

Master’s planning student Michael Rous is on the fence.

“I think it’s something that is needed around campus,” he says. “But I don’t know if student levies are the way to do it.”

Sarah MacKelvie, a third-year planning student, is excited about the possibilities the building brings to the Sexton Campus.

“I think it’s a great idea. If planners get a great space to work, we can really use the space to expand and collaborate.”

She says she would pay the levy.

“If I get to use the space in a positive way and an in a constructive way and I can use it whenever I need it, then yes, I would pay the extra money for the space that I’m not getting right now,” she says.

Her classmates agree.

“I’m very excited,” says Gladys Leung. “If I knew what I was paying for I would definitely contribute.”

“I think it will really strengthen this entire campus,” says Siobhan Witherbee. “Everything will be brand spanking new and we’ll be able to do everything that we want.”

The concern is whether planners will actually get what they want. Being the smallest faculty on Sexton Campus, some planning students worry their wishes will be overlooked.

“Planning and architecture is such a small drop in the ocean compared to the rest of Studley Campus and even engineers,” says Rous. “I don’t know how much financial support we’d be able to give anyways.”

McKelvie is confident that the school will listen to them.

“I think we just need to voice our opinions. [Macy’s] heard a lot from the engineers, and she’s heard a lot from the architects. We need to get to get together and tell her exactly what we want and make sure she can bring that to the table.”